Vernon council approves controversial rezoning with protection plan for at-risk herons - InfoNews

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Vernon council approves controversial rezoning with protection plan for at-risk herons

A protestor outside Vernon City Hall June 8.
September 15, 2020 - 11:32 AM

The City of Vernon has mandated that an environmental protection plan to safeguard the great blue herons will have to be in place before an adjacent development goes ahead.

Vernon council voted unanimously last night, Sept. 14, on a protection and mitigation plan following a public hearing which lasted three hours and saw more than 100 people in attendance.

The City gave the go-ahead to rezone the 20 Street site, to allow for a multi-family development of up to 41 units but mandated that the developer, Scotland Constructors, must have a protection and mitigation plan, crafted by a Qualified Environmental Professional in place before a building permit would be issued.

Scotland Constructors owner Brennan Scott told the move was a victory for both sides.

"I've done what no other building has done in that area... I've gone out of my way to make sure nothing happens to the birds," Scott said. "If there is any stress of any birds whatsoever I will stop any... construction."

The at-risk herons have been nesting at the piece of land owned by Rita Bos for more than 30 years.

The 20 Street site has been mired with controversy since Vernon council agreed to rezone the land on the condition that an environmental covenant was put in place in July 2019. Scotland Constructors later applied to have the covenant removed but council said no. The file was then brought back to the table for another public hearing.

Details of the original draft covenant are vague but were based on provincial guidelines about developing near great blue heron rookeries. Scott accuses City staff of not budging when it came to a 50-decibel noise limit specified in the original covenant. Scott said 50-decibels are similar to the ambient noise level and the herons currently endure far higher levels of noise.

The City received more than 250 written submissions prior to last night's public hearing and with more than 100 people showing up had to split the audience into two locations as per pandemic rules.

Jane Weixl, who campaigned to protect the heronry, said she was happy the City did the right thing by mandating the environmental report.

"It is a compromise to some degree, but it will all come down to whether the protection and mitigation plan is adequate," Weixl said. "I think it's a win in that the City... publicly stated they will support and protect the herons while this development takes place."

Vernon city councillor Brian Quiring, who forward the motion to mandate the Qualified Environmental Professional report, said while most environmental issues fall clearly under provincial or federal regulations, the great blue herons hadn't which made the issue more complicated. Quiring said having a site-specific environmental report tailored to the precise development was the best way of ensuring the birds were protected.

It also appears the herons won't have to worry about being disturbed by construction anytime soon. Scott said he had no plans in the immediate future to develop the site.

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